Advice for bullied atheist kids?

What do I tell my kids when they are ridiculed or harassed at school for not believing in Jesus?

Posted: May 10th 2008

flagellant www

When I was very young, there was a boy in my class who said he didn’t believe in God. Of course, the rest of us did but we never bullied him; we just thought him strange. Bullying of any sort is nasty. It is never justified. However, dealing with it is always difficult, especially when there are many bullies and few victims. Here are three ideas, the first two being drastic, followed by a discussion and suggestions about trying to avoid the situation in the first place.

To get away from bullying, you could move your children to another school (but you may find the problem just as bad there).

Next, you could consider invoking the bullying procedure, if there is one, at the school, but this may exacerbate, not alleviate, the problem. There was a case in 2007, in Alabama, where the school reacted strongly to the bullying when it was reported and, it seems, the result was satisfactory.

It might be more appropriate, though, to talk carefully to your children about how bullying is the bullies’ response to having their deeply-held views challenged. You could, perhaps, also teach your kids not to be unintentionally confrontational.

Often, someone 'different’ in a group can seem antagonistic to the remainder: people, including children, get their sense of belonging by being part of a group sharing common values. If you, or your children, make too much of being atheists, it would not be surprising if this causes disquiet.

There are basically two types of atheism: obviously there’s the 'in your face’, preaching sort. Then, there are atheists that only talk about it when the subject arises, and not always then. It’s usually possible to discuss the topic along the lines of 'Some people think this while others think that.’ The teaching of comparative religion is an appropriate way to lower the temperature, particularly in multicultural societies.

Unfortunately, some atheists express their views so strongly, that they come over as intolerant and aggressive – rather like the worst evangelical. Such attitudes appear personal and contemptuous. I do hope that, when your children go to school, you will have given them good reasons to follow your example and keep the temperature down. This will allow them to maintain their core values, unharmed. If they can learn to avoid confrontation, they will have done much to make their lives easier. While religion is, in my opinion, a matter for consenting adults in private, there’s a lot to be said for extending that stricture to all religious views.

Posted: July 31st 2008

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SmartLX www

There are a good few things you can tell them. Consider the following, but use your own discretion as a parent.

  • It’s their decision. If they don’t believe because they’ve thought it through for themselves, nobody has the right to force a belief on them, not even you.
  • Making fun of them for not believing in Jesus is like making fun of them for not believing in fairies. It’s one person’s word against another, and just because more people believe something doesn’t make it right.
  • I don’t know where you are, but in most Western countries persecuting someone because of their religious beliefs or lack thereof is illegal. Their teachers, if told about this, may have a responsibility to address it. And if the teachers are in on the persecution, they too are in the wrong. (Check this first, of course.)
  • I once gave someone a set of quick responses to simplistic anti-atheist barbs such as kids might throw. Your kids might find them useful, and perhaps learn to come up with similar ones.
  • They’re being victimised at least partly because they’re different. We’re all different in some way, and most of us catch some heat for it in school. There are many resources online and in books for dealing with this very general problem.

I heartily sympathise, and hope things improve for your children.

Posted: May 20th 2008

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